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(CNS Business): The much heralded Cayman Airways direct flight to Panama will end in less than three weeks, according to the airline’s website. Booking staff said they did not know when, or if, the flight would return to the schedule next year. After government spent more than $71,000 on a two-day promotional event and party in Panama City at the end of May, the flight is being axed from the schedule on 3 September after only three months. An official from CAL told CNS Business that this was always the plan, despite the money spent on promoting Cayman in Panama, while a number of customers told CNS they were surprised by what appeared to be the sudden axing of the short-lived route.
Customers planning on making trips to Panama later this year were told this week by airline staff that the flight would stop on 3 September and they did not believe the flight would be re-instated. CNS also called the reservation line and was told that staff could not say whether or not the flight would return next year but that it was most definitely stopping in just over two weeks.
A spokesperson from the airline responded to questions via e-mail and said that from the very beginning the route was always planned to be seasonal and that this had been stated in much of the promotional material. She said that the summer schedule is currently being reviewed for 2013 but did not confirm if the flight would return next year and, if it does, when it would be slated to start.
Other sources have stated that the route was not one that had proved to be particularly popular over the last ten weeks or so since its inaugural flight and celebration in Panama, with flights leaving well under capacity.
According to an FOI request made by CNS, the government flew over 38 delegates on the launch flight to Panama City for a special event at the end of May. The Department of Tourism spent $ 71,489.16 on the party promoting Cayman in Panama as a new leisure destination to travel industry professionals and to the country’s media. The 38 delegates included guests of the premier, the Chamber of Commerce and CITA representatives, as well as private sector tourism stakeholders and the Swanky Kitchen Band among others.
The event took place between the 28 and 31 May, while civil servants back in Cayman were still struggling to produce the 2012/13 budget that has caused considerable difficulties for the current administration. The premier came in for severe criticism from the opposition and the public over this and other trips he took against the backdrop of the ongoing budget crisis, as well as over the cash that was spent on the party at a time when all public servants were being asked to pull in their belts.
DoT gave no indication at the time of the flight's launch that it would only be running for three months before it would be dropped from the schedule. The inaugural flight was heralded as an important step in the development of a trade route between Cayman and Panama, which government said it hoped would produce future dividends.
“The goal behind this action was to help enhance future package development for the route and to also help to educate the Caymanian public as to the potential benefits of such areas as cost-effective overseas medical care,” officials said about the trip at the time.
Panama was cited as a possible alternative destination for overseas medical care for Caymanians as well as to offer trade and tourism expansion projects, as air traffic routed through the country to and from Latin America is set to increase and the Panama Canal is projected to double capacity starting in 2014.
Tourism Director Shomari Scott said at the time that the Cayman party was thrown to help promote the Cayman brand as it was not very well known in Panama.
“As the Cayman Islands has very little brand awareness in the Panamanian market, it is important that the rich sounds, colours and excitement are incorporated into marketing and promotional activities such as this, to help paint a vibrant image on a previously blank canvass and give a sweet taste of what we in the Cayman Islands have to offer,” Scott said in a release.
The bill for the Panama party included $14,717.36 for accommodation at Le Meridien Hotel in Panama City for delegates, $19,000 in airfares and around $25,000 for the main Cayman Nights event.
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